Practitioner Enquiry – Colour Theory & Visual Elements

Description: 140 S2-S3 BGE pupils took part in a series of colour theory and the visual elements lessons. The intent was to see the impact working individually, in groups or in cooperative groups had on learning outcomes and retention of learning through a process of formative assessment and review, concluded with a final summative test.

Qualitative and Quantitative Approach: Art and design relies heavily on a formative approach, being a highly subjective subject with a high degree and variety of creative differentiation based on capped ability (ie. pupils and students peak in art and design at different SCQF levels). In senior phase, critical and historical studies accounts for 20-40% of final grading (N5 20%, Higher 27%, Advanced Higher 40%), with design and expressive portfolios accounting for the remainder. Art and design theory is an area of the curriculum that is more suited for quantitative and summative assessment. At BGE level, this means introducing areas such as colour theory, the visual elements and art and design vocabulary as related to EXA 3-07 ‘I can respond to the work of artists and designers by discussing my thoughts and feelings. I can give and accept constructive comment on my own and others’ work’ and the benchmark ‘shows understanding of how visual elements and visual concepts can be combined, for example, to create mood and atmosphere’. I aimed to evaluate an area that was curricularly relevant, at the appropriate BGE level, using a balance of formative and summative assessment, while providing a learning scaffold and a potential basis for transition to EXA 4-07a ‘I can analyse art and design techniques, processes and concepts, make informed judgements and express considered opinions on my own and others’ work.’.

Method: The lessons were taught on a formative basis over 3-5 lessons, marking progress made at the end of each lesson. Pupils were given an A3 worksheet to complete which included a section on colour theory and a section on the visual elements. Each section accounted for 20 in-class marks, with each question showing the marks available. Pupils were given the opportunity to review and revise their work or finish anything incomplete during lessons. Pupils worked either individually, in groups, or in collaborative groups. For S2 classes only, colour theory and visual elements lessons followed on from a series of art and design vocabulary lessons and resources, either working individually or cooperatively. Scores were reviewed and marked at the end of each lesson and scored feedback provided. Because of the individualised nature of the worksheet, the difference between group work and cooperative work was not explicit, other than 2x S2 cooperative classes (34 pupils) and 3x S2 individual classes (52 pupils) having prior scaffolding on art and design vocabulary, critical analysis and mark-making. The S3 pupils were added as a comparative control, with 1x S3 class working individually (19 pupils) due to behaviour constraints and 2x S3 classes working in groups (35 pupils). This was partly due to timetabling and overall project planning as an added factor.

The colour theory section comprised of colouring a colour wheel split into 12 sections, providing visual examples of complementary colours (opposite colours on the colour wheel) and analogous colours (similar colours), describing warm or cold colours and showing examples of hue (pure colour), tint (adding white), tone (adding grey) and shade (adding black). For those that advanced further, as an extension task and for additional points, pupils could also include split complementary colours (the two colours adjacent to the complimentary colour). The visual elements section explored the visual elements (line, tone, colour, shape, form, pattern and texture) and drawing basic 3D forms (sphere, cylinder, cube, cuboid, prism and pyramid).

Pupil Feedback: Pupils received formative feedback through the scoring of their in-class work during and after lessons. This encouraged pupils to correct and update their work for any work not yet completed or any mistakes made, while also highlighting productivity and progress. Different pupils worked at different paces, completing work at varying times, based on varied effort, differentiation of ability or differing levels of attention to detail. The final summative test feedback was delayed over the Easter holidays and due to timetable changes, so feedback was outstanding for the final summative test of 6 out of 8 classes.

Pupils were given a feedback form to fill in based on the first lesson, allowing them to self-reflect and provide feedback. This allowed them to specify on a scale of 1-6  (6 being highest) subject confidence / insight, art vocabulary knowledge, creativity / imagination, work quality, responsible learner, working on task, participating, working hard / well, motivation / effort, achievement, engagement / interest, being positive, teamwork, helping others, attentive / focused and behaviour / respect. Averages for pupils working individually or in cooperative groupings gave marginally higher feedback overall than those working in groups, with any particularly low feedback either working individually or in groups. Pupil feedback is highly subjective, however, as is pupils’ perception of their progress. Confidence and pupil perception of effort can vary from a teacher’s perspective or comparatively from pupil to pupil. Pupils also gave ‘2 stars and a wish’ style feedback of what they enjoyed about the lesson or what could be improved (Harris, 2007). Feedback from pupils reinforced the benefits of promoting a social constructivist approach (Powell & Kalina, 2009), where 5% of pupils specifically commented positively about working with their peers and 7% who were working individually, requested group work or indicated group work would be more beneficial and engaging. 11% of pupils commented positively on material choice, with this being strongly correlated to the cooperative pupils given the opportunity to explore a wider range of materials. 5% commented negatively requesting more exciting materials. 20% of pupils commented positively on the lesson tasks, with 14% providing negative feedback for task improvement. Again, there was a correlation between negative feedback being linked to a more individualised working approach and positive feedback towards group and cooperative work.

Analysis and Conclusion: As you would expect, there was a strong correlation between the level of effort and final grade achieved. This correlation applied most strongly to pupils working cooperatively, then pupils in groups, who were both more likely to gain a higher grading than those working individually. Within groupings, the level of effort increased overall in cooperative groupings. For pupils working individually there was a greater spread of high and low effort pupils, which reflected in their attainment. This correlates with previous research on differentiation, whereby higher attaining pupils being mixed with lower attaining pupils provides benefits for all, whereas streaming benefits individuals who are more likely or more predisposed to attain (Ireson & Hallam, 2010).

Additional considerations that may impact results include pupil absence, pupil and class behaviour, class dynamics, balancing formative and summative assessment and the level of interactionist classroom management (Martin and Baldwin, 1993). The final test was completed by submitting a google form where pupils submitted their answers, which were then reviewed. Out of 140 pupils, 1 asked permission and then used google to check and verify her answers. There had been no suggestion or indication that pupils could not do this. They were not explicitly told not to, other than being told they could not vocally discuss their answers with each other during the final test. This was an interesting creative initiative by the pupil when considering Bloom’s digital taxonomy (Churches, 2010) and the idea that information is at our fingertips, therefore we should question which information or knowledge we ought to know by rote, rather than by reference. The biggest variable, with the greatest impact was pupil effort irrespective of groupings, however, there was a correlation indicating that cooperative groupings motivated pupils more highly in general. Effort, in turn, relates to motivation on the part of the pupil and is impacted by classroom management on the part of the teacher.

The focus of the lesson sequence was on formative assessment of BGE curriculum content that lent itself best to a concluding and comparative summative assessment in order to provide quantitative data. This corresponds similarly to portfolio development at senior level, where pupils are reviewed formatively on a period by period basis and internal summative assessments and estimates are made before submission to SQA for summative grading. As an art and design practitioner and teacher, my qualitative gut feeling and professional opinion is that practice-based research would be more beneficial for practitioner enquiry over a longer duration or variety of creative formative projects and exemplars through arts-based research (Leavy, 2017). As much as the graphic designer in me enjoys the visual communication of a spreadsheet and graph, there is nothing particularly expressive or creative about either. A summative approach that incorporates formative development provides an overview of general trends, where we can drill down evidentially on a pupil by pupil basis, based on individual or common learner needs (Gilchrist, 2018). However, I would expect to find more opportunity for process-based, procedural learning and creative output with practice-based practitioner enquiry and arts-based research. This could relate to teacher creative practice, pupils’ practice and output or an approach that links together teacher and pupil creative practice, formatively and reciprocally.

A formative-led, summative approach works as an evidential indicator. However, we must not lose track of pupils’ creative output, outcomes, process based learning or ‘aha moments’. These higher order learning moments can’t easily be recorded or shared summatively or when we view pupils and their outcomes as data, rather than using creative outcomes evidently in a qualitative way. In an art and design context, we run the risk of undermining creative learning and output of both teachers and pupils by relying on rote based quantitative data and analysis rather than qualitative and formative feedback of learning and progress. Teacher professional enquiry can better provide a growth mindset ethos that promotes pupil consolidation, by using a formative approach within an adaptive practice-led context. The difficulty is that there is a proportion of the art and design curriculum built on rote learning, visual and written literacy (including IDL) and curricular knowledge, that goes beyond generalised 3rd and 4th level Es & Os or benchmarks. To support learning, we must balance formative and summative assessment for learning approaches, ensuring positive impact based on learners’ needs. We must do so without negatively impacting process based learning or altering teaching due to a demand for data, particularly if this compromises learning impact and the demands and requirements of the art and design curriculum.


15 ways to overcome creative resistance

The following is a list, in no particular order of some things you can do to overcome creative resistance and build some creative momentum. It’s not an exhaustive list, but touches on some of the things I’ve found helpful or that I’ve come across when reading about creativity.

1. Give yourself a break

First of all, give yourself a break! We all have not so great, bad or even terrible days. When you accept that’s the case, you can go from a place where you are your worst critic, to a place of self-care. That’s realism. We all have things that might upset up, distract us or knock or creative world and priorities off kilter.

When you learn to understand that’s actually okay, it’s normal then you can come from a place of forgiveness and it’s easier to move on from a creative block that might be instigated by a mood swing, a personal interaction or a circumstance out with your control. Be kind to yourself in a realistic way and think about what you need to do to take care of yourself so that the next day or week is better both creatively and personally.

2. Go for a walk

There is so much to be said for allowing your subconscious time to mull things over. It’s the same kind of thing as where you gain insight in the shower, when you go for a cycle or exercise, tidying up or when doing the dishes. Sometimes stepping away from creativity is actually what gives your subconscious the chance to make connections.

Going for a walk allows you to slow life down and live in the moment for a short while. Physiologically, exercise and fresh air can be refreshing and energising. Stepping away from a piece of work or an idea, to think either consciously or subconsciously, can make a huge difference in the insights, aha moments and to the creative momentum. Walking also allows you to change your perspective. Go to the beach, up a hill or somewhere that lets you switch your depth of field to seeing things up close and really far away.

3. Read a creative book

Reading fiction can be a really good way to escape and switch off, but I find that I can sometimes hide in a good fiction book and depending on the plot it may have positive or negative impact on my mood and creativity. Having a reading list of creative, factual or self-help books can be really helpful and can fit well into s routine.

For example, my Summer reading list this year so far includes ‘Wired to Create’, ‘Real Artist’s Don’t Starve’, ‘The Artist’s Journey’, ‘Creativity’, ‘Flow’ and ‘Women who run with wolves’. On top of that I’ll probably get through two to three urban fantasy fiction books. So for creative or factual reading, 30-60 minutes here or there and for reading fiction either when I go to bed or more at other times if I feel I need to unwind and disengage.

4. Schedule time to create

I find this really important. It seems like a no brainer, but it’s about making sure you have a comfortable schedule that means you will get so many hours painting, drawing or writing a week and that your priorities don’t fall to the wayside. It is very easy to get caught up in other things and not to prioritise your work and ideas. It is equally easy to spread yourself too thinly over multiple areas, so that you don’t really see much progress.

By scheduling time to create and sticking to it, you make sure that you have dedicated time and space for particular create tasks and aims. You can take that one step further and project manage your time a little more tightly, so that you have a better idea of what you want to achieve in a specific timeframe.

I should emphasise that I’m a fairly organised person. I like to use google calendar to organise my week and to schedule tasks in chunks of 1-4 hours. You may prefer to work on a more ad-hoc basis. The good thing about having a routine is that you can break the rules, move things about, ignore the routine or change it as you see fit. Three times in the last 5 days I’ve scratches things out to go for a nap, because I haven’t been sleeping as well as usual and I needed to do that to balance myself out.

5. Be consistent

Consistency relates to finding time to create and that’s in ensuring that time spent is consistent and becomes habit. It is very easy to fall out of the habit or to become the artist who doesn’t find time to draw or paint, or to be the writer who isn’t writing. Consistency is vital to creativity or to creative output. Sometimes you don’t feel so creative and that’s actually when routines and structures that you put into place can help. If I know that if I spend specific portions of my time writing, reading, drawing or painting, then those routines become habits, those habits become consistencies and that is what makes the difference.

You might have times where you feel really switched on creatively and are in creative flow, which is the most amazing thing to take advantage of and to perhaps alter routines to work around. However, we are not in a creatively optimal place all the time, we need down time and that is when routines can really help maintain momentum and also provide an environment, creative practice and scenarios where we get newly inspired and can more easily reach creative flow again.

6. Create associations

I find music is a really good creative association, whereas television is an awful association. If I’m by myself, more often that not I’ll listen to music. If I’m writing or reading it’s instrumental. If I’m painting or drawing, lyrics can be helpful to let me mind wander. Television in our house tends to be instigated either by my children or my husband. There can be multiple screens on, with multiple audio and that’s far too much stimulus for me to cope with. I find it stressful and distracting. Headphones can be a god send, either on my ears or on my children’s. I find they can be a good way to tune out and to really focus with instrumental music. Other times I need quiet.

Other associations can be helpful too. Coffee is another one of mine that I find useful at some times (first thing in the morning) and not at others (after mid-afternoon). Associations tie into consistency, routines and habits. It can be as simple as putting a specific outfit on because you know you are going to paint or exercise.

7. Switch off social media (and email)

This is another thing you can fit into your routine. By limiting time spent on social media you can prioritise your creative time more constructively. We all use social media in different ways and it can be a really useful tool for creating relationships. However, it’s possible to work with social media on a much more push based way, where as a creative we are the people pushing out, creating and sharing content for others, rather than spending (often in inordinate amount of) our time absorbing others’ social media outputs and really have limited control over what we are experiencing and are exposed to.

I use a few different things to help me manage social media. I have extensions for my browsers which block social media. For Chrome I use ‘StayFocusd’ and for Firefox ‘Simple URL Blocker’. You get similar for your phone. Now I can always go and switch these off manually, but I can also give myself a limit of social media time within a period. The other thing I use is RescueTime, which records in the background anything I’m doing on my computer and I can assign a productivity level. I can add time in manually as well if I am doing something like teaching, painting or cycling. Writing I tend to do on the computer anyway so it’s automatically tracked. I can go into RescueTime and see just how productive or unproductive I’m being. My productivity around the 2017 general election was terrible as I was really distracted. RescueTime also lets me look back by week or month and see general trends in my productivity or to see where I might be spending time disproportionately.

Email is another thing I try to be quite strict about checking. So I have specific times of the day that I check my email, rather than constantly being bombarded with notifications or email distractions that aren’t on my terms.

8. Notebooks & sketchbooks

I find using a notebook and sketchbooks really useful partly to record my train of thought over a particular time, but it’s also a good creative study skill. A lot of my netbooks will tend to be more narrative than drawn, whereas with sketchbooks I’d be more likely to stick specific samples of work together. The thing with having a physical notebook compared to using and electronic notebook (I do use both), is it can be easier to flip back through a paper notebook and see things sequentially, compared to working with multiple notes in something like Evernote.

Having a notebook you can write ideas of interest or insights that come along, gives you a reservoir you can dip into later. I have notebooks from a few years ago that I still go back to. They’re not for anyone else to read particularly, so the level of scrawly handwriting is for my own reference. They are a way of consolidating ideas or insights that can be easily referenced. Think of them like a creative brain dump that allows you to both archive ideas (that may not even seem relevant yet), while freeing up your present creative consciousness.

9. Encourage yourself

I cannot emphasise this enough. Encourage and reward yourself. This goes full circle back to giving yourself a break, but we can be our own worst critics. The critic in ourself is the fear of failure, of not being good enough or of thinking people won’t like what we make, that there is little value in our work. Why would we discourage or self-sabotage ourselves so?

Creative mantras can help with this. I use these on my website intentionally. For example some of my current mantras are:

– I am willing (to learn) to let myself create.
– I am willing to be of service through my creativity.
– I am the author of my own creative journey.
– I am allowed to nurture my creative self.

These may seem woo woo or out there, but conceptually, these are the kinds of things we need to be telling ourselves – to trust in ourselves, to be kind to ourself and the artist within. Creative mantras can be a good way to work through creative blocks, because you can turn those creative blocks around, flip them on their heads and contest them.

Why when you could see the glass is half full, would you think it is instead half empty? This is all about perspective and attitude. Constructive criticism is all very well, but is the poor sibling of positive reinforcement. If we are so critical that it affects our (or others’) ability or confidence to perform, to improve or to produce, then what is the purpose of the critique other than making ourself or others feel bad? It’s also a matter of criticality and understanding which criticism or encouragement is fair, accurate or useful.

Another common theme with criticism is that we and others will often focus on the negative aspects of work or performance, without rewarding, encouraging or acknowledging the positive aspects. Simply put, that is a lost opportunity.

10. Allow downtime

Downtime can be as simple as taking breaks during the day or taking time out for entertainment, exercise or socialising. The thing is we need some degree of respite and inactivity. It’s one of the things we can consider a reward and another way to distance ourselves from creative work to gain perspective. That might mean that you prioritise specific time for relaxing. For example, I do tend to work at the weekends or in the evenings, but I carve out at least part of the day or weekend that is for my family. So during weekdays that’s always between 6pm and 8pm or after, during the weekend it might mean an afternoon on the beach, playing games or reading to my kids. Sometimes I need more downtime and that’s when I adapt schedule to accommodate.

11. Keep things simple

This is another really important lesson I’ve learnt over the past year or so. It can be much easier to overcomplicate than to simplify. I’m prone to this in my own work where I take on so wide a breath of work, that little gets finished. The advantage with that is when I was working on rebuilding my website, I’d already done most of the work previously, but I could have kept things much simpler and by doing so got more done.

I’ve noticed the same when teaching art and design or tutoring; to keep things as simple and coherent as possible. There are ways to tie yourself down to that. So for example, with lesson introductions I created a template that shows at a maximum, four very basic pieces of information. Introduction, learning intentions, task / demonstration and success criteria. This sounds really obvious, but for me I am inclined to overcomplicate and the thing is, that makes your life and workload much more difficult than it actually needs to be. The question I often ask myself now is ‘How can I simplify this?’. Through simplification, your message and communication becomes clearer and it’s easier for others to understand, visualise or connect with your work.

12. Change your perspective

There are drawing exercises you can do such as continuous line or upside down drawing and one of the key strengths of these are that they can allow you to change your normal perspective. Similar exercises with writing would be free writing. exploring writing prompts or alternate scenarios. The advantage of changing perspective is that it allows us to refresh and see the world in a different way.

13. Watch the world go by

By being more mindful we can tap into our creativity in a different way. This ties into changing perspective and being present in the moment. For me this is usually when I go for a walk or cycle, or if I am out with my children. I focus on the here and now. I might people watch, watch the world go by or stop and smell the flowers. We spend so much of our time rushing about or lost in our own thoughts, problems and distractions. Taking time to switch off and to consider the colours, smells and imagery in front of us can be a really good form of creative meditation. I find photography helps me do this, particularly landscape photography. Observation drawing as well, because we have to focus on the details in front of us, and doing scan be really excellent exercises in mindfulness.

14. Have a creative space

You don’t need much to have a creative space. Some they might have a whole studio. I have a desk, drawer and sometimes drawing board that I tend to share with my 9 year old daughter. A sketchbook, notebook, laptop or computer could be your creative space. You don’t need much space to be creative. What you need is for your creative space to be accessible, whether physically or by association. Creative space can equally be reflection of your mind, that you have space prioritised there to be creative.

15. Just create

This last one is very obvious. Procrastination can be a pain to work through and it is very easy to write, to plan or to think about creating, when really what’s needed is just to get on with your creative practice. Sometimes we need to procrastinate or certain tasks are suited better for certain times, but that’s not always a luxury we have or a positive starting point.

It’s only by creating and practicing that you’ll see productivity increase and outcomes produced. Creative practice and process is where the magic happens and where we are able to reflect and understand the creative connections and steps we need to take or to develop towards. What happens when I put the paint on like this, or overpaint in this way? I don’t know until I try and I’m not actually asking and answering those questions unless I physically try out different ideas and techniques. Another point about practicing is, sometimes you didn’t even know there was a question, until you see the answer in front of you and you won’t see either unless you get on with the work.

Creative Realisations

Is there a subject or an area of interest that you are particularly good at or drawn to in life, that you feel is an area where you can make an impact on others?

I had a realisation recently in relation to my own creativity and creative practice. It came after my mum passed away recently and the emotional impact associated with that, which in part made me realise how different I am from the person she was. Not just as an individual or a mother, but in a creative, liberal and conceptual way. The way I see and experience the world is rather an alternative viewpoint to what her reality and perception of it was. The values I derive from life also contrast greatly.

I’ve always relied on creativity. It was always something that was there, more or less and it’s really the education and legacy of my parents that allowed me the freedom to use art and design as my personal compass point. Sometimes I took creativity for granted or ignored its call completely. At other times only part of me was present in the creative process. It was never something I rebelled against, though procrastination is probably a natural part of the human psyche. I feel lucky that I’ve been able to follow a creative path for the most part and to let creativity and inspiration be a guiding force within my life. Recently, I’ve realised how much I have used art and design to fall back on or to justify myself personally. Art and creativity are very much within my comfort zone in many respects, yet have the ability to push me further, in ways I don’t perhaps envisage at first.

I found looking back, that there has been a repeated pattern where I’ve excelled more at the subjects, areas or topics that I hold a predominant interest in and passion for, but also that my talent in those areas seemed to follow my level of interest. That wasn’t seemingly just a straight association or causation between practice and ability, but appeared to link on an intrinsic level. That’s also not a perception coming from a place of ego, but a spiritual insight in and of itself.

Part of the realisation for me and a logical step in my thought process, was the fact that when life has been toughest, I’ve fallen back on creativity and art as a form of expression, understanding and meaning. Creativity was also a manner for me to make up for when or where I felt I was lacking or inadequate on a personal or individual basis in other aspects of my life. That’s understandable, but it’s also meant I’ve been missing the very point.

It’s only been recently that I’ve felt the creative confidence to paint and produce again mindfully, which has allowed me to start to be the version of myself I wish to be long term. It’s taken me time to get to that position and perhaps part of that is down to maturity and retrospect. It’s certainly linked to creative practice and the act of just doing, producing and exploring process.I feel so much less blocked now than I have in the past and I perceive more personal freedom and insight currently. That could be fleeting and it might just mean I’m in a place of creative flow just now. I don’t have to justify or be afraid of showing my creative self and I can use creativity to make my dreams come true or to lead others in inspiration and learning long term, irrespective of other factors.

If people don’t like what I produce, I don’t mind. As long as it brings me joy then it’s authentic and worth building on and I think it will in fact engage with others too then. There has to be some merit and a few special outcomes waiting to be made, but I won’t know that unless I create them and give them the chance they might warrant.

Creativity was what gave me purpose and meaning in the worst of times. At points it felt like it was the only thing I had of value. In the challenging times it supported me and made me feel worth something personally and now it’s going to be what gives me freedom and meaning for the rest of my life.

What I’ve realised is that creativity is worth more than I’ve afforded it in the past or the value I’ve associated with it is far greater than I’ve considered. That’s not to say that it is precious or to be put on a pedestal, but to be practiced and embraced. I always either inclined towards it, fell back on it or used it as self justification for other inadequacies, but now I want to use creativity simply for it’s own sake in a joyous, intentional and celebratory form of practice and learning.

It’s a major realisation for me that those inclinations and talents deserve the best from and of me. You would think that would be obvious, but sometimes things become so much a feature of your landscape that you don’t have the objectivity to see them for what they really are. That in itself is what gives me the creative freedom to flourish. It’s literally from there that I can find purpose and meaning in life and I believe it’s how I can best make an impact for others creatively, by sharing and seeking to educate through practice and process, on the merit and value that art and creativity offer. That’s an incredibly liberating point and realisation to come to.

There’s a common saying that creativity is only limited by your imagination. I would go further in defining that limitation as borne of our preconceptions and perceptions in and of ourselves and our experiences. Creativity and imagination can change the world for the better on an individual and a societal basis, but often we need to be self reflective, while being open to differing perspectives and new ideas. I feel now that creativity is also our ability look at our own perceptions with fresh eyes. Doing so gives us the ability to make the most of our own potential and to continue to grow and learn personally.